Where were you when you heard that JFK was shot or that Elvis died? I wasn’t yet a twinkle in my dad’s eye for those two events, but I will always remember where I was on the greatest night of baseball in history; a night where America’s pastime, overshadowed by football in recent years, stood up, bowed it’s neck and proved how it earned that nickname. Better single moments in sports history? Sure, I can think of a dozen, but there has never been a 30 minute period that worked itself out so perfectly. Over the course of that 30 minute period, the worst collapse in Major League baseball history was completed, twice. First, Hunter Pence’s 110-footer shocked the Braves and sent them home unhappy. Not soon after, the mighty Red Sox, predicted by many to at least make the World Series, were one strike away from, at worst forcing a one-game playoff, with Jonathan Papelbon on the mound, gave up back to back doubles to tie the game followed by a sinking liner that somehow eluded the prized yet disappointing free agent Carl Crawford giving the Orioles the win. In a 3-batter span, the Red Sox buffer was gone, in over the course of the last month; they went from dating Adriana Lima to the condom breaking with a Denny’s waitress at a truck stop. What happened next was all but a foregone conclusion… right as the Sox entered their clubhouse to pray that the Rays lose, Evan Longoria exits stage left in the 12th with a blast that sent a nation of Chowdahheads into a drunken haze and cost Red Sox manager Tito Francona his job. Was the 7-20 September Tito’s fault? No, but his panic was obvious. There’s no other explanation for batting Ryan Lavarnway 5th in the most important game of the year? Commentators preached about staggering left-handed and right-handed hitters in the lineup… yeah, that’ll scare ‘em, a rookie with a .230 average in a crucial spot in the middle of the order. I digress, this article isn’t about who’s out, it’s about who’s in and who looks ready to hoist the Commisioner’s Trophy.
Texas Rangers vs. Tampa Bay Rays
This is an interesting matchup of two hot teams. The Rays and their 42 Million dollar payroll come into the playoffs on fire and take on a Ranger team that just broke the Major League record for slugging percentage in a month. How will this series shake out? The Rangers are favored, but I’ll take the Rays first 4 starters, Price, Shields, Moore, Hellickson over just about any team in baseball, save for maybe the Phillies. The world is about to see how special of a pitcher Matt Moore is and the Rays bats have heated up over the past 2 months. Will they win the series? I think they need David Price to step up, but I don’t see why not. I don’t believe in the Rangers staff. Yes, they are battle tested from last year, but if they don’t hit, they don’t win, it’s that simple. This matchup reminds me of last year’s World Series. A series where I picked the Rangers to beat the Giants… Pitching wins in October, and I’m going to learn from my mistake: Rays in 4.
New York Yankees vs. Detroit Tigers
Another really interesting matchup. The Yankees have more or less been on cruise control for the past month watching and laughing as the Red Sox fell apart. Meanwhile, they were nearly run down for best record by a Tiger team that went on an insanely hot streak. In July, the Tigers rotation was more or less “Verlander and pray for rain.” They added Doug Fister to that rotation and he is pitching way above his head… he will normalize at some point, but there isn’t any reason to think it will be right now. They also have two good young arms in Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello who are streaky and inconsistent, but when they are on can shut down just about anyone. They will have their hands full with the Yankees lineup, but I actually prefer the Tigers rotation to the Yankees first four of CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, Freddy Garcia and either AJ Burnett or Big Fat Bartolo Colon. The Yankees lineup is loaded, but the Tigers boast the series’ best player in Miguel Cabrera as well as a few players having career years. I think this series goes the distance and it’s really a coinflip in my eyes… and the coin just told me to take the Tigers. Tigers in 5.
Philadelphia Phillies vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Cardinals, led as always by Albert Pujols, ran down the reeling Atlanta Braves and stole their playoff spot on the last day of the season. Their reward? A matchup with baseball’s best team, the 102-win Philadelphia Phillies. I never root against Pujols and actually think people don’t understand how great of a player he actually is. Still, with Holliday banged up, and truthfully even with him healthy, beating Halladay, Lee, Oswalt, and Hamels 3 times in 5 games is too much for any team to ask. The Phillies Achilles heel this season has been scoring enough runs, but I think they are built for the playoffs and the fact that they only gave up 529 runs this season is more than ridiculous. I think the Cards steal game 3, but are done in 4. Phillies in 4.
Milwaukee Brewers vs. Arizona Diamondbacks
No one was more wrong about the Diamondbacks this year than I was. In my preview I wrote: “I applaud Kirk Gibson for wanting only character guys on his team, but 9 times out of 10 talent wins. The 1-5 spots in the lineup don’t look bad, and Daniel Hudson and Ian Kennedy are nothing to sneeze at. The remainder of the team however is very iffy. If things go well, they could challenge the Padres for 4th, but if Stephen Drew’s injury is any clue to how the season plays out, 70 wins might be a high estimate.” With that said, I wouldn’t have much faith in my thoughts on the D-backs, but I do think their Cinderella run comes to an end here against the Brewers. Milwaukee looks like a team hitting its stride at the right time. Ryan Braun is a forgotten superstar. Prince Fielder may be playing his final games in Milwaukee, but he’s a masher and they boast a pair of aces in Yovani Gallardo and Zack Greinke. I don’t think Arizona wins a game this series, but I had them losing 90 and was dead wrong, so the least I could do is give them one. Brewers in 4.